The Jolt: How Georgia’s Senate runoffs made Democrats’ climate, health and tax bill happen

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff, right, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia wave to supporters during a rally on Nov. 15, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff, right, and Raphael Warnock of Georgia wave to supporters during a rally on Nov. 15, 2020, in Marietta, Georgia. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images/TNS)

It’s not often that the weight of a single Senate election is made so clear, so frequently.

But in the 18 months after double runoff wins for U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in January of 2021, President Joe Biden has had multiple policy wins made possible only by votes from both of the Georgians.

The latest came Sunday when the Senate passed a sweeping climate, health and tax measure. It was a 50-50 vote, as Jamie Dupree reported for the AJC, with Ossoff and Warnock voting yes and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker for grateful Senate Democrats.

Had former GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler held onto their seats last January instead, it’s likely the measure never would have been formulated or considered, let alone passed.

The pivotal win for Democrats includes language to let Medicare negotiate better drug prices for seniors; to extend Obamacare health subsidies for low-and-middle income earners; and to create new climate programs, including tax credits to retrofit homes, and funding for greener ports, buses, cars and planes.

To pay for the $369 billion price tag, the legislation would set a minimum corporate tax at 15%; create a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks; and increase IRS enforcement of tax evasion. An earlier effort to tax carried interest as income for hedge fund and private equity managers was scrapped.

Warnock items that made the cut were a $2,000 annual cap for seniors’ drug costs and a $35 cap for diabetic seniors’ monthly insulin supply.

An Ossoff item to speed solar manufacturing was also included.

But election year politics were never far from the Senate floor. Republicans expressly targeted a Warnock item that would have capped the monthly cost of insulin to $35 for all patients with health insurance, not just seniors.

It would have been a victory for the Georgian-- and one that Democrats suspect was pulled out specifically to deny Warnock the win ahead of November. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took the lead to spike the measure, with seven GOP senators voting with Democrats to keep it.

Republicans, including Warnock’s GOP rival Herschel Walker, have hammered the overall package and argued it will worsen inflation, not improve it, and add regulations that will damage American businesses.

The bill will be front and center in the 2022 elections, but it never would have happened without the Georgia runoff results in 2021.

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WHAT …? Not long after U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock cast a key vote in support of the federal climate change, tax and healthcare measure, his opponent’s campaign sent out a bewildering tweet.

“Where you at scaredy-cat?” Herschel Walker’s campaign tweeted. The ill-timed tweet aimed to attack the Democrat on his debate stance, but it led to a flood of responses pointing out that he was front-and-center amid the all-night Senate debate and floor votes.

It also comes after months of Walker saying he’d debate the senator anywhere, anytime, but not accepting any of the three debates Warnock previously committed to. Warnock even cut an ad comparing Walker to a tiny kitten.

Last Tuesday, Walker agreed to a separate debate in front of a theater audience in Savannah, which Warnock has not agreed to.

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RUDY IN GA. It could be a pivotal week for the Fulton County special grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump. It certainly won’t be boring, the AJC’s Tamar Hallerman and Bill Rankin report.

Former New York City mayor and Trump election lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been told to be in court in Atlanta on Tuesday to testify after failing to appear in a New York court to challenge his subpoena.

On Wednesday, attorneys for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham are scheduled to appear to fight a subpoena for the senator. Graham has argued that the “Speech or Debate” clause of the Constitution should shield him from inquiry about his calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the weeks after Trump lost Georgia and worked feverishly to pressure officials to reverse the result.

Rudy Giuliani ordered by judge to testify in Fulton County special grand jury

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Separately, Trump-aligned lawyers Jenna Ellis and John Eastman are scheduled to appear later this month in courts in Colorado and New Mexico, specifically, to respond to subpoenas compelling them to testify in Fulton County.

Ellis and Eastman were familiar faces in Georgia as Trump worked to overturn his loss in the state.

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WALKER’S EX-FACTOR. A new 30-second ad from the Republican Accountability PAC is among the first to include footage of Walker’s ex-wife graphically describing him choking her and threatening to shoot her during their marriage.

“Do you think you know Hershel Walker?” the ad says. “Think again.”

The attack ad is backed by a six-figure buy and is part of RAPAC’s plan to spend at least $10 million in six swing states to defeat fellow Republicans who echoed former President Donald Trump’s election conspiracies.

“Herschel Walker is unfit to be a U.S. Senator. He lies routinely, both about his personal life and about the 2020 election, and his past behavior is disqualifying,” said Sarah Longwell, a veteran Republican operative who helped organize the PAC.

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SOROS SWIPES. Liberal billionaire George Soros has long been at the center of far-right and often antisemitic attacks. And he’s also become a favorite punching bag of Georgia Republicans for his role in state races.

Gov. Brian Kemp told supporters on the campaign trail last week that voters don’t want a “governor that’s going to be controlled by people like George Soros.”

Attorney General Chris Carr accused the Soros family of funding his opponent, Democrat Jen Jordan, “because they’ll know I’ll stand up for YOU, not criminals.”

And the Georgia GOP got in on the act with a photoshopped image of the 91-year-old philanthropist and Jordan.

While Soros has significantly helped finance Abrams’ with $2.5 million toward her second bid for governor, finance records show that he didn’t directly contribute to Jordan, though his son and daughter-in-law have given to her campaign.

The Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon is among the groups that see something nefarious in the attacks.

“We are alarmed to see Attorney General Chris Carr and the Georgia GOP flirt with antisemitism in tweets attacking Jewish philanthropist George Soros. Soros is a well-documented target among alt-right conspiracy theories, all of which are rooted in antisemitism. We condemn these tweets as there is no place for antisemitism or hate in Georgia politics.”

Carr campaign manager Neil Bitting said the “allegations are absurd” and the attacks have nothing to do with Soros’ religion.

“It has everything to do with Soros and his family injecting themselves very publicly into Georgia elections with their money and their misguided policies,” he said, “including spending millions to elect soft-on-crime liberal District Attorneys in Georgia and around the country who are refusing to enforce the law.”

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NO LOVE FOR NEWT. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is presented by Georgia Republicans (most recently Herschel Walker) as a sort of Wise Man of all things policy. But a new book from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank argues that Gingrich is actually the cause of America’s most epic policy and political disasters.

“The epic government failures of the last quarter century,” Milbank writes, “can all be traced back to Gingrich and the savage politics he pioneered: three impeachments; two botched wars and a botched pandemic response; several government shutdowns; a seven-fold increase in the federal debt; a market collapse and the Great Recession. … It’s no wonder that there has been a wholesale loss of faith in American democracy.”

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GROUND GAME. You can’t win an election without people casting their ballots. So the Republican-backed Georgia Victory effort has hit 2 million voter contacts this election cycle to motivate and mobilize voters for their candidates.

Their outreach includes a mix of door-knocks and phone calls, with more than half of those contacts coming from canvassers knocking on doors, officials say.

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HAPPENING TODAY. The three men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder will be sentenced in federal court Monday in the hate crimes case over the 25-year-old’s slaying, the AJC’s Shaddi Abusaid reports.

Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan have already been sentenced to life in prison for Arbery’s murder by a state court.

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BACK TO THE FUTURE. Speaking of the 2021 Senate runoff elections, one of the key figures from those epic contests, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, has not faded into history or obscurity.

Loeffler was back on the campaign trail last week with GOP agriculture commissioner nominee, state Sen. Tyler Harper, and 2nd District GOP nominee Chris West. She attended an Albany roundtable with farmers and tweeted out her support for Harper and West afterward.

Along with her Greater Georgia initiatives, it’s a reminder that while Loeffler isn’t on the ballot this year, she’s never stopped campaigning.

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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